Gridlock: The World's Most Congested Cities

Congestion is a growing problem around the world; rising populations, poor infrastructure and rapid economic growth are all factors that contribute to traffic congestion. According to the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard, 75% of the more than 200 cities indexed experienced an increase in congestion between 2017 and 2018.   

The INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard is an annual analysis, conducted by transport data firm INRIX, that examines congestion trends in over 38 countries and 200 cities across the globe in relation to their population. The index ranking is calculated based on the hours and money lost annually due to congestion, as well as the inner-city last-mile travel time (the time it takes to travel one mile into the central business district during peak times), and last-mile speed (the speed at which drivers can expect to travel one mile into the central business district during peak times).   

According to the scorecard, UK drivers lost an average of 178 hours or £1,317 due to congestion in 2018. London was ranked as the sixth most congested city in the world, and among UK cities, was ranked first; with drivers in the capital losing an annual average of 227 hours or £1,680 per driver due to congestion. London, along with Edinburgh was also ranked as the slowest city in the UK, with average last-mile speeds of 7 mph; for comparison, Dublin, which has an average last-mile speed of 5.9 mph during peak times, was ranked as the world’s slowest city.

Moscow

1. Moscow, Russia

Despite a 12% decrease year-on-year from 2017, Moscow was ranked by INRIX as the most congested city in the world. Drivers in the Russian capital spend an average of 210 hours in traffic every year, with congestion spiking at 86% in the morning, and peaking at 102% during the after-work rush hour.

Istanbul

2. Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul has taken the title of the second most congested city in the world with drivers in the Turkish city experiencing a 6% increase in congestion year on year. In 2018, Istanbul natives lost a whopping 157 hours or 6.5 days to congestion, with nearly all of those hours occurring during peak rush hour periods.

Bogota

3. Bogota, Colombia

Bogota is the world’s third most congested city, and the worst in Colombia. Drivers in the Colombian capital spent an average of 272 hours in traffic in 2018, with an average rush-hour speed of 10.6 mph.

Despite losing more hours to congestion than any of the other countries listed, the index considers a number of factors when calculating the INRIX scores and as a result, Bogota missed out on the coveted top spot!

Mexico City

4. Mexico City, Mexico

On average, Mexico City natives spend  218 hours driving in congestion, with an average last-mile speed of 9 mph. Once named as “the most polluted city on the planet”, it’s no surprise that Mexico City features so high up on this list.

Over recent years, the city has been plagued by thick smog, and on 15th May this year, officials declared an environmental emergency – at the time, the city had only experienced 9 days of acceptable quality air out of the 133 that had elapsed since the beginning of the year! The government has been working to reduce air pollution in the city by rewarding drivers with newer, more eco-friendly vehicles, and obliging drivers with older, ‘dirtier’ cars not to drive for one day a week. 

Sau Paulo

5. Sao Paulo, Brazil

One of the world’s most populous cities, Sao Paulo is the fifth-most congested city on the planet. Rapid urbanisation is widely cited as a key reason for high levels of pollution in South America, with growing populations expanding city limits every year.

According to the UN World Urbanisation Prospects, Sao Paulo’s population is growing at a rate of 1.13% every year, with 40% of residents owning a car. The INRIX index found that drivers in the South American city lose more than 150 hours a year to congestion, reaching average speeds of 16.75 mph during peak times, and 23.35 mph during off-peak hours.    

London

6. London, UK

In February 2003, then-mayor of London Ken Livingston introduced the much-debated congestion charge to the aptly named ‘Big Smoke’, and although the charge has increased over the years in a bid to deter drivers from inner-city areas, 16 years later, London is still the world’s sixth most congested city – a scary statistic when you compare population size with some of its ‘rivals’ on this list!

Despite drivers’ obligation to pay £11.50 to drive within the congestion zone every day, congestion in the city is up 1% from 2017, with residents spending an average of 227 hours a year in traffic, and reaching average rush-hour driving speeds of 15.58%.   

Rio De Janeiro

7. Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Holding the title of the most congested city in South America, and 7th most in the world, drivers in Rio De Janeiro lose an average of 154 hours to congestion annually – doubling journey times during peak hours.

The Brazilian capital has experienced a huge growth in traffic over the last year, with a staggering increase of 15% in hours lost to congestion from 2017, not surprising when you consider that the number of cars on the road has increased by 40% over the last decade.  

Boston

8. Boston, USA

Holding the title of the most congested city in the USA, Boston makes an appearance at number eight on the 2018 INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard. In 2018, congestion in the American city cost drivers an average of 164 hours, the equivalent of $2,291 – with inner-city last mile speeds reaching no more than 11 mph.

In October this year, Massachusetts lawmakers were urged to consider introducing congestion pricing, similar to the London congestion charge, in a bid to ease traffic within the city during peak times.    

Saint Petersbourg

9. St Petersburg, Russia

St Petersburg is the world’s ninth most congested city. Drivers in Russia’s former capital spent an average of 200 hours driving in congestion in 2018, with peak speeds reaching a meagre 12.5 mph, less than half that of the average free-flow traffic speeds of 28.71 mph.

Congestion in St Petersburg has been the subject of contentious debate over the last decade, with lawmakers pushing for developments in infrastructure as a solution to the cities traffic issues. Completion of the Western High-Speed Diameter in 2016 is widely credited with the 5% year on year decrease of congestion within the city.  

Rome

10. Rome, Italy

With peak time travel speeds almost three times slower than the average free-flow speed, Italy’s most congested city is ranked by the INRIX index as the world’s 10th most congested city.

Drivers in Rome spent an average of 254 hours in congestion last year, the second-highest number of any city on the list! According to a 2018 study by Greenpeace, fewer people walk and cycle in Rome than anywhere else in the world – with only 7% of journeys in the city being made by foot or on bicycle.

Ankara

11. Ankara, Turkey

The Turkish capital city sits just outside the top ten as the world’s 11th most congested city. Commuters in the industrial hub of Ankara lose an average of 128 hours a year to congestion, that’s the equivalent of more than 5 full days!

According to the scorecard, peak speeds during rush hour reached an average of 18.22 mph, increasing by 32% at off-peak times to 26.44 mph. Despite these damning figures, Ankara has seen a 5% year on year decrease in congestion and has one of the shortest inner-city travel times of 5 minutes.

Izmir

12. Izmir, Turkey 

Trailing one place behind Ankara, Izmir is the third Turkish city to appear on our list. The city has seen a 1% increase in peak-time traffic over the last year, with commuters spending an average of 154 hours driving in congestion annually.

The Sabuncubeli Tunnel,  an underwater tunnel, which lies to the east of the city, was opened in 2018 in a bid to reduce the number of cars on Izmir’s roads, however, the project has drawn widespread criticism from urban, transport and environmental planners and campaigners due to its position on fault zones within the region.

Sydney

13. Sydney, Australia

Sydney has emerged as Australia’s most congested city. Despite being ranked as the world’s 13th most congested city, Sydney has seen a 1% reduction in congestion year on year. In 2018, drivers in the city lost an average of 138 hours to congestion, at an estimated cost of over $3.3 billion to Australian businesses.        

However, officials in Sydney are working to reduce congestion in the city. The Sydney Metro Central Business District (CBD) line is due for completion in 2024, with the aim to dramatically reduce the number of cars travelling within the central business district.     

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14. Singapore, Singapore

In 1998, Singapore became the first city in the world to introduce Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) in a bid to reduce congestion on its roads – and it shows! The Southeast Asian city has been slowly making its way further down the index over the years, and is home to the fastest inner-city last-mile speed on this list, with a rapid 15 mph average! 

Despite valiant efforts by the government, drivers in the Singaporean city still spend an average of 105 hours (more than 4 full days!!) driving in congestion annually.

Berlin

15. Berlin, Germany

The only German city to make our list, Berlin makes an appearance at position 15 on the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard. In 2018, drivers in the German capital hit average peak speeds of 14 mph during rush hour and spent an average of 154 hours driving in congestion – that translates to a cost of over €1,340 per driver!

Drivers in Germany must adhere to an emissions sticker system, which rates each vehicle based on the levels of pollution it produces. In Berlin, only ‘green sticker cars’ (green stickers are issued to new, eco-friendly cars) are permitted to drive within the city’s low emission zone.

Paris

16. Paris, France

Paris is the world’s 16th most congested city, climbing two places from the 2017 index. The city has shown a 7% year-on-year increase in pollution, stranding drivers in an average of 237 hours of congestion annually. 

In 2018, in an effort to tackle the congestion & pollution problem in Paris, the French government introduced monthly car-free days. On the assigned car-free days, residents and visitors to Paris can enjoy the sights of the city without the usual noise, smog and obstructions created by the cities 6 million vehicles.    

Melbourne

17. Melbourne, Australia

Falling two places from the 2017 index, Melbourne nabs position 17 in our list of the world’s most congested cities. Over the last year, the city has seen a 13% reduction in congestion, with drivers in the central business district reaching healthy peak-time speeds of 24 mph.

In continuing efforts to reduce congestion, local lawmakers in Melbourne have proposed the introduction of a congestion charge, as well as the pedestrianisation of some of the city’s most famous streets.  

Belo Horizonte

18. Belo Horizonte, Brasil

Belo Horizonte is the third Brazillian city to make our list, and takes the 18th spot on the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard. Drivers in the city lost an average of 202 hours to congestion in 2018, more than half of the other countries on our list!

Despite the introduction of 27 km of bike lanes in 2014, Belo Horizonte has also experienced one of the biggest changes in pollution year-on-year, with an increase of over 12% from 2017.

Washington

19. Washington DC, USA

Congestion in America’s capital city costs drivers an average of $2,161 a year according to the INRIX 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard. Appearing at number 19 on the index, Washington DC is the USA’s second most congested city, with drivers losing an average of 155 hours to congestion annually. 

According to a 2018 survey by the Census Bureau, the average commute time in the city is 35 minutes, although during peak times, what should be a 20-minute journey can often take upwards of two hours.

Toronto

20. Toronto, Canada

With an average inner-city last-mile speed of 10 mph, and an average of 164 hours lost every year to congestion, it should come as no surprise to find Toronto sitting at position 20 on the index. The only Canadian city to make the list, Toronto has seen a 4% decrease in congestion year-on-year.

Toronto is working to further reduce congestion in the city, with the introduction of traffic agents at some of the cities busiest intersections during peak times. The traffic agents will work to keep traffic moving and will have the power to direct traffic, remove vehicles and close roads altogether.  


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